Women We Admire: Goh Siu Lin

Lawyer, first woman to become the chairman of the KL Bar, and children rights activist – Goh Siu Lin’s courage and determination in speaking up for what is right continues to inspire us. Here, we speak to her a little about why she continues doing what she does day in, day out despite the obstacles that may come her way:

1. Why do you think it’s important that not just women, but men (everyone) to take these issues that women and children face seriously?

Inequality exists in every social stratum of society. I began to see that gender inequality is both the cause and effect of overall inequality. Women and children are vulnerable not because they are incapable, but because they are placed in disadvantaged positions, be it politically, socially, culturally or economically.

Men and boys are also adversely affected by gender bias and stereotypes and are under pressure to conform (for example to be masculine, to act aggressively or indulge in sexist locker-room banter etc). This perpetuates the vicious circle of inequality.

So, this is why it’s important for everyone to be engaged, especially men and male leaders. To be willing to listen without judgment, to learn from and to work with women, to be part of the change, to devise transformative policies to enable everyone to attain the highest levels of participation and opportunity, economically and politically.

2. Have you ever felt discriminated as a woman throughout your career?

I think what many women lawyers face is the indirect discrimination or unconscious bias which may make the workplace less conducive to sustain a career in or advance. Historically, as there were lower numbers of women entering the legal profession so workplace policies were crafted without the benefit of female perspectives.

The legal profession is also becoming more business-orientated and one’s worth may valued by how much one makes. Women lawyers face special challenges as society expects us to shoulder the family responsibilities as care-givers.  This may result in the differing opportunities in terms of work allocation, access to clients, mentoring and remuneration. Many do not speak out in fear that their careers may be jeopardized. What we really need is for a cultural and mindset shift within the legal profession.

Personally, the most difficult period of my career was remaining in practice whilst juggling motherhood. I breastfed both my children until they were 3 years old (my son beyond that) which took a lot of perseverance. I must say though that the strong bond I have with my children is well worth the sacrifice. However, those early sleep-deprived years when the children were young were extremely stressful. Thrown into the mix, were the punishing work deadlines. Seared in my memory was the day when a Judge insisted on written submissions being filed the following day after a full 3-day trial, despite being informed of my predicament, she refused my request for a one week’s grace period. So, I was left with no choice and stayed awake the whole night, cradling and breast-feeding my 3-month-old daughter in my left arm, whilst laboriously typing out my submissions with my right hand, one letter at a time.

Yes, there have been many difficult and painful days. However, I look upon this as part of life’s challenges. I’m very fortunate to have a safety net, my supportive husband, my family and close circle of friends. They have me recharge, refocus and regain my positivity. To cope with the work demands, I would multi-task and complete my deadlines whilst my children were asleep. As I grew wiser, I gradually delegated some of the childcare responsibilities to my husband and to my parents. I’m constantly plagued by guilt but learning to manage this.

3. How did you feel when you were named as the first ever female lawyer to be elected as chairman of the KL Bar committee?

So very relieved! I felt like I had crossed the finishing line for a marathon! The news quickly went viral and the attention was rather overwhelming. There was a tremendous outpouring of love and support through emails, text and WhatsApp messages from family, friends, fellow lawyers and strangers. My victory was theirs too.

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